By summer 1944 the Allies were powering through occupied France. The military commander of Paris, General Dietrich von Choltitz, had orders to destroy the city if the Allies got close. Dynamite was packed under every monument.
Locals suspected of contacts with the resistance disappeared daily. The concierge would force the door to find an empty apartment with two chairs close together in the hallway and German cigarette butts on the tiled floor. Family and friends could do nothing but queue daily at the Gestapo headquarters on avenue Foch to beg for information.
A woman with green eyes, high-cheek bones, and a bun of dark hair spent a lot of time standing in line that summer. Marguerite Donnadieu was child-faced thirty-year-old born to French teachers working near Saigon. In early June 1944 her days were spent working as a Vichy civil servant, her evenings plotting with a hard-left resistance group led by fellow bureaucrat François Mitterrand. Any spare time went towards writing novels under the name Marguerite Duras.
It was 6 September 1944. A group of Maquis fighters was patrolling an area near the Swiss border, watchful and alert. The Allies were powering through France but this part of the country was still behind enemy lines.
A tall man with blue eyes and thin blond hair slicked into a combover came walking along the road that led back to Switzerland. He was carrying a suitcase and had clearly just crossed the border.
The Maquis stopped him, discovered he was English, and didn’t like the way he answered their questions. They took him for interrogation by a British SOE major called Johnston who had been parachuted in to help the fight against the Germans.
Faced with a fellow countryman, the man with the suitcase cracked. His name was Gerald Percy Hewitt and he’d been collaborating with the Nazis for the last two years.
The French resistance opened hunting season on collaborators in the spring. On 26 April 1944 they machine-gunned Violette Morris to death as she stepped out of her Citroën Traction Avant on a Normandy country road between Épaignes and Lieurey.
Morris was chauffeuring a local pork butcher called Bailleul, his wife, and their two young children. A carriage blocked the road. The Citroën stopped and Morris got out with a pistol in her hand.
Submachineguns opened fire from the treeline. Violette Morris and her four passengers died.
The attackers knew her as a cross-dressing traitor responsible for the deaths of their comrades. Morris’ friends remembered a bisexual race car driver, interwar celebrity, and champion weight-lifter who was friends with Jean Cocteau. It was complicated.
Pop the champagne and spoon out the caviar. I just signed the contract for my next book. It’s about gangsters in Paris during WW2. Look out for it around June 2020 from publishers Biteback. The working title is ‘The French Gestapo‘, although that might change.
In wartime Paris a gang of crooks, corrupt cops, and fallen celebrities led by the orchid-loving thief Henri Lafont worked for the Nazis and lived like kings – until the Allies arrived and a price had to be paid.
Expect treason, debauchery, crime, and tragedy. It’s like Goodfellas meets Inglourious Basterds, or The Godfather meets Schindler’s List. And it’s all true. Find out more about my new book below.